Phototherapy for Atopic Dermatitis: All Facts Revealed

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic disease that appears in early childhood and often lasts throughout a patient’s lifetime. Beyond the dryness of the skin, atopic dermatitis causes a rash of pink and reddish color, which is usually localized on the inner surface of the elbows, under the knees, on the body, neck, and face.

Facts about Atopic Dermatitis

  1. Over 70 percent of patients report severe, unbearable itching, and almost 63 percent claim to itch at least 12 hours per day.
  2. If there is any damage to the skin, atopic dermatitis may be complicated by bacterial or fungal infections.
  3. This disease is often accompanied by disrupting sleep – 60 percent of children with AD have sleep disorders.
  4. Atopic dermatitis also leads to physical and emotional problems for the patient and their family.
  5. The atopic disease influences the quality of a patient’s life: limits their social interaction and activities, and increases the likelihood of anxiety and depression.

What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is considered to be a childhood skin condition because most people have less aggressive symptoms of the disease when they become older. Thus, atopic dermatitis affects 16.5 million adults in the USA, and most of them experienced the first symptoms of the disease when they were about 2 years old. In recent years, however, more and more people aren’t able to ‘outgrow’ atopic dermatitis. This disease persecutes a person throughout life.

An essential role in the appearance of atopic dermatitis is given to heredity. If one of the parents has or had chronic AD, there is a 50 percent likelihood the child gets it. Among the most common triggers of AD one can distinguish:

  • unhealthy diet;
  • stress;
  • fragrances;
  • insect bites;
  • soaps and household cleaners;
  • certain fabrics such as wool and polyester;
  • other factors.

How to Diagnose Atopic Dermatitis

To diagnose atopic dermatitis, a patient should be examined by a dermatologist. Since atopic dermatitis greatly increases the level of immunoglobulin in the blood, a patient should carry out a number of blood tests including a complete blood count and blood chemistry screen. In rare cases, a patient has to perform a skin biopsy.

How to Treat Atopic Dermatitis

The treatment of atopic dermatitis directly depends on the stage of the disease and the type of rash on the skin. Usually, dermatologists prescribe anti-inflammatory ointments. When treating atopic dermatitis, it’s very important to consider the form of medication: for some conditions, it’s better to use a fatty ointment or balm, and for others a cream or water-based emulsion.

If a patient experiences bacterial or fungal infection along with the common symptoms of atopic dermatitis, they are often prescribed a range of antibiotics. There are special groups of patients that are resistant to any treatment mentioned above. In this case, light therapy is essential.

How Does Ultraviolet Light Therapy Work Against Atopic Dermatitis?

Phototherapy is a safe and reliable method recognized by doctors worldwide and it effectively helps most patients with atopic dermatitis. Light therapy is also used for preventive and supportive purposes. The UV light:

  • stimulates metabolic processes;
  • has an immunomodulatory (anti-inflammatory) effect;
  • has a restorative effect;
  • inhibits the rapid division of cells.

Yet the spectral characteristics of sunlight are very variable and depend on the season, time of the day, geographical location, climate, and many other factors. Therefore, it’s often impossible to use sunlight for therapeutic purposes in modern conditions.

Besides, solar radiation brings both a great part of the UV spectrum and infrared radiation, which causes overheating. Therefore, at the beginning of the last century, scientists attempted to create artificial light sources that could be used to irradiate patients for medical purposes – phototherapy.

UVB Phototherapy Effects

The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care reports that phototherapy can effectively suppress such symptoms of dermatitis as inflammation and itching. The National Eczema Association also informs us that 70 percent of patients with dermatitis see massive improvements in their skin conditions after light therapy sessions.

Narrow-band UVB phototherapy with the wavelength 311 nm has become the most widespread treatment for different types of dermatitis compared to the wide spectrum UVB- and PUVA therapy. This method has a maximum biological effect and is more convenient and safe for the patient, especially in the case of long-term use.

Thanks to narrow-band phototherapy for atopic dermatitis, patients can now forget about greasy hormonal ointments and antibiotics, which can impact the patient’s health if they apply them for a long time.

Can Phototherapy for Atopic Dermatitis Be Used at Home?

At the beginning of the 2000s, patients had to attend medical institutions to undergo phototherapy in special cabins with fluorescent lamps. Today, there is a wide range of newly-designed lamps anyone can use at home.

With these home-designed lamps, patients can now treat individual parts of their body like legs or hands instead of irradiating the whole body.

The home-designed phototherapy lamps allow patients to treat their dermatitis from the comfort of their homes and not get distracted from their work or everyday routines.

The UVB lamps also help save a great deal of money. Thus, the total costs spent on treating atopic dermatitis in the USA seizes $5 billion a year. One session of phototherapy for atopic dermatitis costs about $150. Meanwhile, patients can pay around $400 once for home-designed lamps and use them multiple times by themselves.

What Dose of the UV Light Should You Start With?

The treatment starts with a small dose suitable for the patient’s skin phototype (by the Fitzpatrick skin classification), which is determined before the course of phototherapy.

When calculating the initial dose of phototherapy therapy for atopic dermatitis, the doctor also counts the individual sensitivity of the patient to the UV light. Then the dose is gradually increased by 15-20% with each subsequent session.

What are the Safety Measures Before the Procedures

Consider several recommendations to treat your skin safely with UVB phototherapy:

  1. Avoid sunbathing or visiting the tanning salon at least 2 weeks before the procedure.
  2. Don’t apply chemical peelings at least 2 weeks before the procedure.
  3. Don’t take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light.
  4. Don’t wipe the skin with alcohol-containing products.
  5. Avoid visiting saunas, baths, and swimming pools at least 3 days before the procedure.
  6. Don’t apply any lotion 24 hours before the procedure.
  7. Apply enough sunscreen on skin areas where you’re not applying phototherapy.
  8. Wear safety glasses and keep them on during the whole procedure (your phototherapy company will provide you with them).
  9. Keep your eyes closed during the entire session if you’re treating eyelids.

How Long Is the Procedure?

The duration of the phototherapy session lasts on average from 1 minute at the beginning of the course to 12-15 minutes at the end of the treatment.

What are the Safety Measures After the Procedure

To prevent any complications and achieve good results, you should:

  • Use an odorless moisturizer such as Eucerin, Aquaphor, or Cetaphil at least once a day.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of no less than 35 all over the body.
  • Avoid sunbathing and visiting the sauna during the treatment course and 2 weeks after it’s completed.
  • Avoid scrubbing/peeling your skin for 2 weeks.

How Many Procedures Do I Need to Take?

The length of the treatment of atopic dermatitis refers to the overall health condition of a particular patient and the severity of the disease. Usually, patients with atopic dermatitis require 20-30 sessions of phototherapy 2-3 times per week. Once the patient is in remission, they may need to take one procedure per week to maintain the obtained results.

When Is the First Visible Effect Seen?

The results after the ultraviolet light therapy for atopic dermatitis vary from patient to patient. As it is absolutely on a case-by-case basis, it is impossible to guarantee the same results for all patients. In general, the first visible results from phototherapy are seen after 5-7 sessions. It may take longer for patients with hard conditions. It’s because phototherapy has an accumulative result.

To sum up, phototherapy is an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis of any form. With light therapy, patients get rid of the annoying itching, reduce their level of anxiety, and greatly improve their overall quality of life. It’s a convenient treatment that saves patients’ money and time they can spend with their families or for hobbies. What are you waiting for? Start your treatment today!